It’s Dangerous to Set the Impeachment Bar so Low, Trump Lawyer Argues

January 28, 2020 Updated: January 28, 2020

President Donald Trump’s lawyer, in concluding his opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial, said that if the bar for impeachment is set too low, future presidents won’t be able to exercise executive power, while addressing allegations reportedly contained in former national security adviser John Bolton’s book.

“Danger, danger, danger,” Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal attorney, said in front of the Senate. “I want to focus today, on my section, on what you’re being asked to do. You are being asked to remove a duly-elected president of the United States and you’re being asked to do it in an election year,” Sekulow said. “In an election year,” he asserted.

What’s more, the current case against Trump, if successful, would permanently damage the executive branch’s power as future House majorities could dangle impeachment over future presidents’ heads.

“Future presidents—Democrats and Republicans—will be paralyzed the moment they are elected. Before they can even take the oath of office,” he said. “The bar for impeachment cannot be set this low.”

Impeachments cannot be done over policy disagreements or based on unsourced newspaper reports, Sekulow continued.

Sekulow said Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky—a key component of the impeachment inquiry against the president—was more about foreign policy.

“You cannot impeach a president on an unsourced allegation,” he said, referring to an allegation that is reportedly contained in former national security adviser John Bolton’s forthcoming book. The New York Times, without quoting any excerpts from the book, reported on Sunday night that Bolton said he was told by Trump about a linkage between a freeze on military aid to Ukraine and investigations into political opponents. Trump has categorically denied the report.

john bolton
Then-national security adviser John Bolton speaks at a press briefing at the White House in Washington on Jan. 28, 2019. (Holly Kellum/NTD)

On Monday, other members of Trump’s defense team, which includes former Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr, Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Trump attorney Eric Herschmann assisted in defending the president in front of the Senate. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Trump’s legal defense team would conclude their arguments before dinner.

Dershowitz on Monday and Cipollone on Tuesday argued that the two articles of impeachment—abuse of power and obstruction of Congress—fall short of any Constitutional standard and set a dangerous precedent. Democrats have alleged Trump withheld military aid to push for investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, a former board member for Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian gas company that was owned by an oligarch who has long been under investigation for corruption and money laundering.

Some Republican senators have said they would vote to compel testimony from the Bidens while Democratic senators and some swing-vote Republicans have suggested calling Bolton to testify. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), in a Tuesday morning press conference, pushed back against a suggestion that Bolton should be able to testify in exchange for the Bidens’ testimony.

Cipollone, in his closing opening argument, called on the senators to defend the Constitution and reject the impeachment articles.